Way Out of No Way
Noname doesn’t owe anyone.
The Chicago artist recently announced via Twitter that she will be taking a break from performing and making music indefinitely. This break will happen following the conclusion of her booked shows. She cited her frustration with the predominantly white audiences at her shows who consume her music (which often specifically speaks from and is aimed at the Black experience) while ignoring the realities of her existence as a Black woman.
Unshockingly, Twitter was set ablaze with accusations of reverse racism, perpetuating division, and ungratefulness. This pointed to the tried and true ideology stating prominent Black athletes and artists should be grateful and keep “politics” out of their fields. This is also a narrative used for Colin Kaepernick, James Brown, Beyonce, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Lebron James. It is also used for whoever else has the audacity to point out the obvious. It’s ye old “shut up and dribble” reanimated.
Artists and athletes do not OWE US their work. The only pursuit that is more important than honing their crafts is protecting the purity of it. Neither of which has anything to do with consumers.
James Baldwin once said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” This decade will be marked by the awakening of Black people to the levels of racism as the through-line of American society. We have been forced, due to a lack of progress and an overall apathy, to become the freedom fighters of our own lives.
As we journey through that process, it is a trauma-inducing weight that recolors everything you know. All of a sudden, you see things in your favorite TV shows, noticing how the “cool white kids” with the Jordans and hip-hop knowledge don’t have any Black friends. If they do, they are just ornamental relationships. This weight is especially poignant when you learn the difference in statistics on every facet of society. From homeownership to pay equity, racism infiltrates, destroys, and runs rampant.
The weight of all this hurts.
Cost Be Damned
I learned from reading “Color by Fox” by Kristal Brent Zook that the great Black television shows of the ’80s and ’90s that shaped my upbringing were only created because white audiences had switched to cable TV and Black audiences were the only thing left. To learn that much of my childhood joy was built around being a leftover was disheartening. Now every time I watch one of those old episodes, this thought pops in my head like an unwanted ad: “This was never meant to happen. This joy wasn’t for you. It was the backup plan to the backup plan.”
The same can be said for Black Christians. When you start looking around the room and realizing some of our heroes of the faith don’t even love you skin deep, it takes a recovery period (as with any victim of a traumatic experience) to be able to rejoin the general public.
While Noname said she can longer stomach the sight of “1,000 white faces saying the n-word,” Black Christians are declaring we can no longer stomach the tenants of racism tainting the churches, our faith, and society in general. We have collectively decided, cost be damned, if it comes down to us sacrificing our dignity, being enraged, or hurt; subjecting our kids to the world we were born into or continuing to let y’all be y’all for the sake of respectability…it ain’t gonna be us.
“Artists and athletes do not OWE US their work. The only pursuit that is more important than honing their crafts is protecting the purity of it. Neither of which has anything to do with consumers.”
I agree, they don’t owe us their work. However, if you wish to be a successful, public artist or athlete you must render your work to the opinion of others, especially consumers if you wish for your artistry or athleticism to make your living.
Further, white people enjoying and liking black artistry should be welcomed. Shouldn’t it? Why on earth, would anyone turn around and insult so many people who enjoy their artistry, where many are probably seeking to understand and relate?
Music is a wonderful medium that can cross and reconcile racial lines. So can sports. So can 80s tv shows. Because what they do is show the humanness of everyone. That it runs deeper than skin color or culture or heritage. In fact, I know so many white people who grew up on 80s/90s black tv shows that loved them. Those shows broke down barriers by their simple existence, regardless of cable or not.
“This decade will be marked by the awakening of Black people to the levels of racism as the through-line of American society. We have been forced, due to a lack of progress and an overall apathy, to become the freedom fighters of our own lives.”
So I’ll disagree, this decade isn’t marked by some new awareness of racism. It’s marked by those who would prefer to remain chained to the pessimistic worldview that we’re still in the 1940s or something. That in the information age where it’s so easy to take the handful of confirmation biases like “shut up and dribble” and the reality that we’ll always have racists hanging about, that it must extend to everyone of like color.
This pessimism pervades unfortunately, and is an anathema to reconciliation and fellowship.
If all you have left is to gripe about what channel tv shows were on 30 years ago, while ignoring the immense impact they had on younger generations, including whites, you’re doing it wrong. if you want to make music, but you don’t want white’s to listen to it, and instead you insult their open ears, you’re suffocating your own hope at a better society.
The reality is that people like Kapernick and Noname due this for the publicity. Kapernick has made more money off his visibility from insulting the entire nation than he ever did at football. The reality is that Noname will now be a name and more whites will pick up their artistry, not less. Visibility is key to power and wealth, and though I don’t know their hearts, this is the reality of their actions. If purity of their work is truly the goal, then all they did was undermine that goal. Noname would have been better off hiding it under a rock where no one has access.